I fondly look back on my 40+ year defence industry sales career, the first 10 years of which were spent at the Avionics group, Basildon, selling various types of Electro-Optical systems both at home and abroad. Most of my period at Basildon went well. However, try as you might to avoid surprises, occasionally, something completed unexpected comes at you from out of the sun - and so it was, in this case.
A newly formed UK company had just designed an aircraft with a novel configuration. They had multi-million-pound financial backing and announced an intention to satisfy a variety of operational roles. One of these would be powerline surveillance. At Basildon, we had a new generation of thermal imager whose capabilities would be well suited, so I got in contact and arranged to visit. As it happened, their operational understanding of powerline flying was a bit thin; I gently educated them, the best I could, whilst pointing out the relevant details of our thermal imager capabilities for their application. I quickly had their attention.
Some days later they got back to me regarding their forthcoming participation at the Paris Air Show; they would have an exhibition stand and wanted to include our thermal imager in their display. Great! We had suitable materials - including a set of video replay equipment showing airborne thermal video images from a power line operation and I immediately confirmed our enthusiasm to assist. Anyway, we were going to be exhibiting at Paris, as part of the Avionics group, so it would be easy to provide deeper support, should they need it.
A few days after this, they contacted me, again, with a much more challenging request. Their Paris exhibition stand was going to cost them £40,000 (this is back in 1983!) because our thermal imager would now be one of two exhibits on their stand, they required us to pay them £20,000! I pointed out that, as a relatively small division (a headcount of less than 200) in the Avionics group, our annual divisional exhibitions budget was only a tiny fraction of £20,000 and, anyway, our resources were already committed (even if wed wished to help). After consultation upstairs I was able to advise that, whilst our position on funding was unchanged, we would be more than willing to host dinner etc to any serious potential customers who might appear. I got the impression my response was accepted however reluctantly, and in due course, we despatched the loan items for their stand.
It seems my various responses hadnt gone down as well as Id thought. They probably didnt understand how GEC-Marconi functioned well, why should they? Presumably, they assumed a very large company must represent a very large money pot. So, what did they do? They wrote a very pointed letter to Arnold Weinstock, to complain.
Some days later, my boss and I were in one of the Basildon meeting rooms with a couple of visitors from the MOD. In the middle of the meeting, my boss was called out to see the Divisional Manager.
On his return, my boss quietly told me what it was about and then it was my turn. Our Divisional Manger always looked a slightly nervous man. On this day, he looked terrified.
Lord Weinstock had sent a short letter response. Both the letter of complaint and AW's response had bounced their way from Stanhope Gate to the Avionics group HQ, at Rochester, thence to General Manager Wally Paterson, at Basildon, and finally to the desk of our Divisional Manager.
It was all cleared up, quite fast. I was actually patted on the head for doing the right things. It was certainly an interesting way for a 30-year-old salesman to get noticed if not by a method I'd intended - and no, they didnt get the £20,000.